If you haven’t seen “The Bad Seed” or “Rosemary’s Baby” chances are you will be thoroughly taken with Lynne Ramsay’s thriller “We Need To Talk About Kevin”, which opened today in San Francisco at the Century 9 Cinemas. Even if you have seen the aforementioned, Ms. Ramsay’s film is at times intense, powerful and arresting. The opening five minutes are a preview of what is to come: a haunting, scary, blood-speckled psychodrama with strong atmospherics and gripping moments of tension.
Undoubtedly, Ms. Ramsay makes a very good start in this film, its entrance leaving a distinct impression. Andy Warhol made it clear years ago: everyone will be famous for 15 minutes, and the talented Scottish filmmaker Ramsay executes effectively in those early moments, which form the best part of “We Need To Talk About Kevin”, about a mother’s relationship with her flesh and blood, and by extension her own tormented self.
Ms. Ramsay uses Warhol in the artistry of her film, with fellow Scottish compatriot Tilda Swinton (above) as Eva Khatchadourian, whose teenage son Kevin (Ezra Miller) has just committed a high school massacre, which we don’t immediately see. Eva is ostracized, besieged by her community and herself. Ms. Swinton investigates Eva with a series of stoic and pallid expressions while bringing a credible humanity and complexity to Eva’s limitations as a character. Fueled by constant flashbacks, the film looks at Kevin’s life early on and at Eva’s for parallels. How did this mass murder happen? Who engineered it? Based on Lionel Shriver’s novel, “We Need To Talk About Kevin” builds on its styling as a chronicle of parental guilt and responsibility but does so in a repetitive manner, with sledgehammers as crescendos.
“We Need To Talk About Kevin” never escapes its own barking of the obvious, adding horror clichés almost at will, forcing you to submit to the terror of the unholy prospect that Eva has brought a murderer into the world. Is it her fault? Is it her deer-in-headlights surface husband Franklin’s (John C. Reilly)? I was put off and troubled by the film beyond its opening 15 minutes, not by the unsettling aspects it raises but by its redundancy. At almost two hours “We Need To Talk About Kevin” is about 30 minutes too long, overstaying its welcome.
Even if not at her best Ms. Swinton does well as Eva, who as a mother makes her position as a unique figure struggling with a singular dilemma and contradiction both disturbing and untenable. Ms. Swinton, one of the world’s best actor chameleons, a versatile physical presence as a performer, is as naked as she’s ever been on the big screen. In Eva Ms. Swinton generates a psychological nakedness and nuance that is riveting. Regrettably Ms. Ramsay doesn’t match the strength of her leading lady in sustaining a narrative and mining it more thoroughly, instead stitching together and telegraphing one familiar terror moment after another. Mr. Miller is jarring as Kevin in the film but his character is so deeply one-sided one-note cardboard that you wonder if his Kevin is more an amplified horror-fantasy of Eva’s rather than a standalone figure.
“We Need To Talk About Kevin” is, when all is said and done, a study in contrasts in a one-two punch: one jab is subtle, the other overbearing.
–At the Century 9
With: Jasper Newell, Rock Duer, Alex Manette, Ashley Gerasimovich, Kenneth Franklin.
“We Need To Talk About Kevin” is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for disturbing violence, some sexuality and language. The film’s running time is one hour and 50 minutes.
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